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Thursday 8 December 2016

Clark: We've got Bosnia's number

Defender says play-off opponents are no longer a mystery

9 November 2015; Republic of Ireland's Ciaran Clark during a press conference. Republic of Ireland Press Conference, National Sports Campus, Abbotstown, Co. Dublin. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
9 November 2015; Republic of Ireland's Ciaran Clark during a press conference. Republic of Ireland Press Conference, National Sports Campus, Abbotstown, Co. Dublin. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
Ireland defender Ciaran Clark in action against Bosnia’s Vedad Ibisevic during the Euro 2016 qualifier play-off first leg in Zenica last Friday

The nickname for Bosnia's national team is The Dragons. They have been called a lot of things in their two decades as the representatives of their nation, but a "long ball" side is not a tag usually attached to the clever ball-players from the Balkans.

When he was pitched into central defence for that battle with the Bosnians on Friday night, Ciaran Clark expected the home side's threats to come from defence-splitting, career-finishing passes from their main man, Miralejm Pjanic.

Instead, he saw Pjanic have a quiet night and Bosnia then resor to the long-ball game which other nations identify only with, ahem, 'British style' countries like ours.

"We had watched a lot of Bosnia, they are very good players, all very talented and dangerous," says Clark. "But I think the style of play changed for them towards the end of the game, they started to go a lot more direct, especially towards the end, they tried to cause us problems that way.

"They tried to play in the first half but they mixed it up by going long towards the end, they were going really direct, something I didn't expect.

Factor

"It was part of the game, there wasn't long left and the fog might have played a factor, maybe they thought they could throw it in there and hopefully someone wouldn't see it or maybe get a lucky break," he added, aware of course that Bosnia did deliver an equalising goal.

"Our midfield lads did really well as it was a tough night for them, they were doing a lot of work in front of the back four, sitting in and trying to stop the strikers as well as their midfield players, so they had a hard night but did brilliantly, it was a tough night with the fog."

There was a mystique attached to the opposition before the game as, bar Edin Dzeko and keeper Asmir Begovic, no one in the Irish camp had any direct experience of playing against all those Bosnians who ply their trade in Germany, Italy, Spain and Turkey (in fact their most impressive player in Zenica, Edin Visca, plays for a little known club in the Turkish league.

"Being part of that and playing in the game, I know now what they have, so do the other lads, we know where their strengths are," added Clark.

"We dealt with them fairly comfortably, it was disappointing to concede so late on but we picked our heads up, we came back and prepared as best as we can.

"We will go out and, hopefully, go for it. As the boss said, we can't sit back and let them come at us because they are good players, they have a lot of dangers in their side, it's going to be a tough game for us but hopefully we can make it just as tough for them."

Ireland do have an away goal in the bag from Friday but for Clark, the only way this side will get to France is if the Republic ignore the away goal and focus on the job in hand.

"We go in like it's 0-0, be focused and prepared," he said.

"It was a good result out there but it's nowhere near finished, we have a massive game tomorrow and we have to start again, we need to go in as if it's 0-0 and go from there."

The form of Clark and Richard Keogh at the back gives boss O'Neill a headahce in terms of whether to accommodate John O'Shea. "I enjoy playing with Richard, it was a tough game but we did well together," said Clark. "But it means nothing if we don't get that result tonight."

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